Chosen Family: A Friend For Over Thirty Years

I can count on my fingers the people that I hold close and have let into my heart. I’ve never been big on acquaintances – I’d sooner be alone with my thoughts in nature than stuck in a room of fake smiles and raucous artificial laughter. I don’t do surface level friendships or communications; I don’t see the point in it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a chameleon (trauma does that to you!) and can float round a large gathering appearing comfortable, being funny, showing interest, bringing people together – but as an introvert, that kind of situation wipes me out for days afterwards and it takes time to regroup. I would rather spend time with one or two close friends in a space that allows quiet for chat than out shouting over music any day of the week.

I am finding more and more that I avoid situations where I get out way less than I put in. I’ve always been a people pleaser, a giver, but I’m nearly forty now and I know that I am finally done wasting energy putting myself in situations that don’t feel good on an energetic level- whether that be with my family or in social situations. I only have so many spoons and these days I am seeing that I am actually worthy of using these spoons to support myself! Who knew?!

I want genuine, authentic, ‘warts and all’ relationships with like-minded souls. I seek people who are able to be vulnerable and show their wounds as well as their triumphs. I want deep conversations and comfortable silences not performance. Life is too short for show. Let’s get down to meeting one another on a soul level and supporting one another in our vulnerable authenticity rather than hiding from one another and putting on a brave face.

Over the course of my life, I have met some truly wonderful people who I cherish – friends that feel like family. And my goodness, I have needed a chosen family with the blood relatives I got dealt! Once that bond is made, once I let you into my circle, there’s no getting out… but then those people who are in that space don’t want out (at least they don’t seem to!).

There is nothing better than connecting with people who know you and see you for who you are, who love you in spite of your flaws and because of your sensitivity, people who celebrate your successes and commiserate with you when you fail, people who just want the best for you…and for all that to be reciprocated, for the love and care to run both ways. I want to know and be known by my chosen family.

Today I want to write about one particular member of this small group of special people that I hold dear in my heart. I don’t know if she’ll get to read this because currently, she’s very ill in a hospice suffering after a long battle with cancer… and also it means sharing the blog which is a vulnerable act in itself – not that she’d share it with anyone, but our mums are friends and I have always been a bit reluctant in case my mum got wind of what I was writing! (Can you even imagine?!)

This is not the first time I have written about the cancer thief on this blog – my darling friend and second ‘mother’ died a couple of years ago from myeloma and it knocked me for six but there was perhaps a bit more acceptance on my part then despite the devastation because she was almost sixty, this time I feel at a complete loss because there is no fucking way that my friend should be in this situation at 38 or having been battling since she was 30. It’s just brutal.

When you keep your world small and your loved ones in single digits I think you feel the loss of these significant people all the more acutely and I want my beautiful friend to know just how very much I love her. I know she knows anyway, but I just want to say it again publicly.

This amazing, strong, selfless, inspiration of woman is my longest standing friend. We met at primary school when we were six and I’d just moved into the area. We struck up an instant friendship. Back then we were all about roller-skating, gymnastics and playing with our dolls ‘Anna’ and ‘Amy’ (seriously, we had the same shivering baby dolls!). We spent hours playing and chatting and just being little girls together. The first time I went to her house to play I stepped in a bowl of custard, and I’ve never been able to live it down! But I love those memories.

It’s funny, really, because I moved away from the area when I was eleven and yet despite years of not really seeing much of each other there has always been this unbreakable bond between us. Whenever we have got together it’s like no time has passed and it hasn’t mattered that we haven’t actively been in one another’s lives. We pick up like there’s been no separation and I guess that is the hallmark of a strong relationship.

In some ways this is odd, isn’t? A friendship forged over just five years in childhood is not like my university friendships formed as a young adult and where you might think there would be a greater degree of like-mindedness and yet it is every bit as strong, every bit as valuable. As small girls we weren’t talking about the tremendous hurts our families caused us, our struggles with our bodies, sexuality, self-harm, health concerns, because that stuff wasn’t there then – back then we were just two little girls who got on well but somehow that deep knowing of those little girls has kept going all these years.

We are now two women, mothers ourselves, who still have each other’s backs and have come through so much – I’d smash anyone who wanted to hurt her in the face with my rollerblades- just you see! When I got diagnosed with Hodgkin’s it was incredible to have a friend who really ‘got it’. She understood the fear, and the bloody awful side effects of the chemo and radiotherapy. I never had to pretend I was ok about my cancer with her. We spend so much time protecting others when we get sick and trying to be ‘ok’ but to have someone who really knew what it was to feel chemically sick, to lose her hair, and all the other shit that comes with it was so valuable to me. I hope that she feels that there never needs to be an act for me even at the end now.

I’m not doing a great job with this today; I keep getting massive waves of grief and overwhelm to think that we are where we are. I so badly want to be able to put into words how very proud and honoured I am to call this special lady my friend. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you what an amazing person she is. The love that she and her family is held in is immense and it’s not surprising because she’s fucking incredible. She set up a charity to support people with cancer whilst battling with her own and has created a legacy that will live on long after she’s gone. I just wish she was going to be here to see it.

There is so so much I could say here about all her achievements but fundamentally I am just so proud to call her my friend and so thankful that she even wanted to be my friend. She has no idea how her friendship when we were kids helped me get through some really tough times. The safety and stability our friendship offered meant I didn’t feel alone when everything was terrible at home. I could at least escape into love and care at school.

Sometimes I think that life just seems to be a series of losses and heartbreaks, and wonder why we do it to ourselves? If essentially all relationships are set to end why bother? Why walk into something that will end causing us pain? But then of course, relationships are what makes life worth living. It’s our interactions with one another, the love we feel for one another that truly makes a life. And whilst I am beyond sad that I am watching, helplessly, as my darling friend faces this horrible time I am so very grateful to have been with her on this journey that we call life.

It’s not what we do in life that matters. It’s how we make others feel. And a lifetime of friendship, care, and love is the greatest gift she has given me. I will be lost without her.

I love you L.